Drummer John Dolmayan: This Was My Day Job Before Joining SOAD, I Was Earning $60k Per Year

"I actually had to take a pay cut to join System," the musician explains.

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Drummer John Dolmayan: This Was My Day Job Before Joining SOAD, I Was Earning $60k Per Year

SOAD drummer John Dolmayan recently talked about his biggest passion alongside music - comic books.

Explaining to Inc how his passion was fired up when he was a kid and ultimately grew into a $500 monthly "bad habit," John said:

"When I was 18, I didn't want to ask my parents for money but I had bills to pay, I couldn't afford a good car and I was constantly paying for repairs... so I had to make a tough decision: stop collecting, or make more money.

"Not buying new issues of the comics I loved was unthinkable, so I started selling some of my back issues. I put ads in a free local paper. I had some pretty good books by then, so I ran ads saying, '50% off back issues.' I quickly developed a business selling back issues.

"I lost money for the first 6 months... My dad said, 'Instead of trying to sell them, why don't you just take these comics and throw them away? You'd lose less money.' My parents had been lending me money, and he felt I was squandering my time and my talents.

"When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm the kind of person who will kill myself to prove them wrong. I've been told no one makes it in music. I've been told comic books are a stupid idea.

"I take great pleasure in proving people wrong.

"So I kept at it. I heard about a convention in Anaheim that was strictly for comic books. I went to Home Depot and bought closet organizers and used them to create displays. I crammed everything I could into my beat-up 1986 Baretta, set up my display in a nice corner of the hall... and I made a profit of $250, which was more than I had made the entire 6 months previous.

"I went home and I gave my dad the $250 and said, 'See? I can be successful at this... and I will be successful at this.'

"I kept running ads in the free paper, went to more and more conventions, made more and more money, and expanded my business. Eventually I was making more money selling comics than I was working at my 'real' jobs. So I said, 'This is it. This is what I am going to do for a living.'

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"Fast forward a few years, and when I got signed to join System I was making about $60,000 a year selling comics. I actually had to take a pay cut to join System.

"Of course, looking back it sounds odd, but at the time deciding to join the band was a tough decision to make. I love everything about the comic business: hunting for rare books, talking to other people who are passionate about comics... I love everything about the comic book world. The first day of San Diego Comic-Con is my favorite day of the year. The last day is my least favorite day of the year, because that means Comic-Con is over.

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"So I did take a big pay cut to be in System, but I took advantage of touring to go into every comic shop, every bookstore, every antique store I could find.

"People in the business are generally really nice. If they didn't have what I was looking for - vintage, high-end books - they would give leads. I built up 10 to 20 really good sources across the country, I'd buy books in those towns... and when the band was off, I'd set up at conventions and sell books. I did that until 2003, when I decided to build a 'real' business, and that eventually became Torpedo Comics.

"That store did really well really quickly, so we're opening at our new location on May 20. It's a 3,500-square-foot store in a high-traffic area.

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"Even so I'm spending way too much money on the store, when a kid walks in I want them to feel the same thing I felt when I was 12 and I walked into my first comic book store. I want the adults to feel that way too. I want people to feel good about being there... and miss it when they aren't there.

"Selling is secondary to me. I truly believe that if you have a great product and create something incredible, the sales will come.

"Anyone can make a living - but not everyone can make an impact. I've always wanted to make an impact."

The drummer concluded: "The key is to do something that makes you happy, so every day when you go to work you're happy about working - that way you put as much effort as possible into what you do. That way you will go to the limit of your ability.

"If you're going to be successful at something, you have to give it every ounce of effort that you can. I've known tons of musicians and tons of people in the comics business who fell by the wayside, and the ones that have the drive... they're the ones that are successful. They're willing to go through the tough times and the failure.

"When someone tells them they can't do something, they want to prove those people wrong. They'll do anything to prove those people wrong - and to get to do what they love."

57 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Wow, that's actually the most inpsiring piece I've read in ages.
    Agreed. That DJ Ashba article had a similar effect on me https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/general_mu...
    It would be inspiring, except that it's about a DJ.
    That's actually really cool. Inspiring too, shows if you have a passion and you want it enough you can make it work
    I definitely agree. Find something you're good at and apply a great work ethic, and you can make almost anything happen. That's been my paradigm for years, and I find it inspiring to see in other people too.
     "Selling is secondary to me. I truly believe that if you have a great product and create something incredible, the sales will come."   I've been saying this about the music industry for years.  Makes me proud to say I'm a soad fan.  Even if they have sold out in terms of sales.  That's why, because pure f'n quality.  The way it should be.
    Awesome story. I have very similar story, minus the joining SOAD as their drummer part. It's so rewarding making your own money
    "  I was making more money selling comics than I was working at my 'real' jobs. " Right, because comic book conventions are a monday-friday thing in any given city...  like say... "a real job". 
    Is this gonna be a new thing now, throwing links in between paragraphs?
    I must be the only one who thinks this is kind of sad. Just selling things that someone else put hard work into creating and publishing? How is buying something and then selling it for more money a noble way to make a living?
    ...do you not understand how retail works or?...
    I dont think you understand how it works. Theres huge difference between owning a business where you take financial responsibilty by buying many different products and selling them under your own roof and just wheeling and dealing comic books on the side. This is typically behavior of scumbags who "sell dvds" on the side.
    I'm big on comic books, so I just want to clarify; this is pretty common practice. It isn't the same as DVD's because you're not pirating the comic book; comics are labeled and numbered for this purpose. He would mostly be tracking down rare issues, and likely buying from people without the network to find the big buyers. So the adjusted price he buys back issues at is almost like a fee taken out for having the ability to find large buyers when the average person could not. A 25¢ or 50¢ comic from the '70's in good condition can sell for 3-5 dollars in good shape. It may not be worth finding the buyer for average Joe, but with a high volume, he can give the original collector a good deal AND turn a profit without ripping anybody off, including Marvel or DC. Having access to older copies is great for young readers, and nobody today is ripped off paying 3-5 dollars for a comic; sometimes they're even a dollar. It's a lot more like a record store that sells used vinyls than a pirated DVD salesman. I just wanted to clarify the situation to maybe help explain why there is some use to what he's doing.
    And to clarify, comics are labeled and numbered in ways for them to be collected and traded. My original sentence was a little vague.
    So you buy your guitars from Paul Reed Smith himself? Directly, from him?  Paul Reed Smith in person?  And not from the guitar store around the corner? 
    I buy them off of the PRS website, yeah. Ive bought one off of ebay, which was used and was priced accordingly. If someone was just buying up PRS guitars and selling them for more than they were worth, wouldnt they be sort of a scumbag?? How does one "make money" by just buying mass amounts of comic books and selling them? Its not like he sold off a collection of classic rare vintage comics, he was just buying them for cheap and selling them for more. If you respect that sort of work ethic you need to get yourself a real job
    So buying stock and selling it at a higher price isn't noble?  It's how the world goes round' my firend.
    You just compared playing the stock market to flipping comic books. I remember my first beer.
    No. It's not noble. Noble deeds are rarely profitable, and if they are, it's by accident. Otherwise, you're just doing what everyone is capable of; acting in their own self interest. It's fine not to be noble, as long as being noble isn't important to you.
    I really respect you sticking up for me. Its good to know SOME of the people who post on this website arent immature pimple faced freeloaders who live in their parents basement and dont understand what its like to be an adult.
    Also, where the hell does 'noble' fit it into making an honest living? He's not trying to cure cancer, but it sounds like he's developed a lot of great relationships over the years. Whose standards is he trying to live up to lol, yours?
    Of course the original poster is going to be judging through his own lense. You're basically attacking him for his opinion being an opinion. It would seem like, to him, doing something noble with your life is important.
    Okay, then they should go out and do it, instead of expressing incredulity that someone does what they like instead of adhering to your personal standards of nobility. Everyone is judging things through their own lens. I don't even know what that even means in a practical situation. We're all giving our opinions, so let's cut out the redundancy, yeah?
    The original poster probably is doing something noble, if that's a big deal to him. You're telling me to cut the redundancy, but your original criticism is guilty of that redundancy, which is what I was calling you out on. When you say "whose standards is he trying to live up to, yours?" you're ignoring the basic fact that what he commented is a judgement of the guy based on his standards. That is the redundancy I am referring to that made me reply, "Of course the original poster is going to be judging through his own lens." You effectively chastised him for stating his opinion, when almost every statement is an opinion.
    He probably thinks he's doing something noble and important, that I don't question. Having the expectation that what someone does as a hobby or for a living has to meet your criteria of nobility, which no one else mentioned mind you, is ridiculous. I'm not chastising him for having an opinion, it's for arguing against something that no one else brought up.  Anyways, it wasn't even the bulk of my point, so why do you care and expect me to? Maybe I didn't phrase it elegantly enough, but go harp on something else, please.
    Im a male nurse and I take care of elderly people, many of which are dying of cancer and other natural disease processes. I just think slingin comic books is kinda ghetto and sleazy. What do you do for your paychecks?
    Buying and selling in the stock market is how I'm able to put 2 kids through very expensive universities who otherwise would not have the opportunity.  Oh, but look who buying expensive PRS guitars instead of donating that money to a "noble" cause.  Have a nice day.
    You don't do it out of the goodness of your heart. You get paid for it, get off your high horse and take an economics class. The whole point of a FREE market is that your FREE to do any transaction you want and no transaction happens without benefiting both parties. If he's buying comics, and selling it where there is more demand, then more power to him. If the person he bought it from didn't find value, they wouldn't sell. If the person he sold it to didn't find value in it, they wouldn't buy it. Quite literally econ 101. We can flip this on you too the same way you did it to them.  - How dare you take money from sick and elderly people who can't help themselves. Have you no shame? What an awful thing to do to these poor people.- Of course I don't agree with that logic, it's a service that needs to be paid for, just like finding comics that are rare and selling them to consumers who don't have access to it.
    It's​ your only point in your original post, really. He's free to bring that point up, and I don't see why it's ridiculous to think that most people should strive to do something noble with their lives. The point about arguing something nobody brought up is completely different from anything you've said up until now. I care because a ridiculous amount of responses on UG are something to the effect of "well that's your opinion," or "who are you to say," and so on. It's redundant, and I'd prefer a more interesting discourse in the community. So harp I will. In the future, if you'd like to post something on the internet without somebody responding to it, I suggest you make a bulletin board labeled, "Things I feel about UG articles," write it down on a sticky note, and put it there, rather than posting it to the world.
    Okay dude, you're right. Thanks for the chastisement and enlightenment. You should just cut out the headache next time by signing off with "Sheriff of UG", so I know better than to trifle with you in the future. Jesus Christ lol. I'm genuinely flabbergasted here.
    This has to be what having a cognitive disability feels like. One person completely jumping the shark, the other having no idea what the hell is actually going on.
    I think he probably looks at it as giving people, usually kids, the chance to experience the magic he has in comic books. It's noble to stick to your guns in and do what's unpopular because it's what you love. Comic shops give people a place to be, the same as your local record store or studio.
     "When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm the kind of person who  will kill myself to prove them wrong. I've been told no one makes it in  music. I've been told comic books are a stupid idea" You can`t talk sense into Serj, to make the new SOAD album!!!
    Honestly, getting out of comics and into music right at the turn of the century is the best thing he could have done. Collectors almost bankrupted the comics industry, and he's lucky that touring with SOAD would have stopped right around the start of the revival of comics with Civil War and the start of the MCU.
    You appear really, really bitter about collectors? 
    Not at all, I kind of am one. It's just a fact: collectors almost bankrupted the entire comics industry. It effectually DID bankrupt the sports memorabilia industry; trading cards and such. People bought up comics like crazy after seeing what original Spider-Man, Superman, whomever, "back issues" could resale for in the late '80's. So people started collecting with the intention of keeping their comics in pristine condition. Many people bought multiple copies of the same issue, which cued to Marvel and DC that comics were booming. So, companies over produced, not only extant series, but new expansions and even creater-owned companies popped up, like WildStorm. Quality and originality really dropped throughout this period; see the art of Rob Liefeld and try to name all the "X" series. Then, all of the new collectors started reselling their, not at all rare, comics at a bloated value, and stores were way overstocked with back issues, or old comics. So stores started buying comics back for less, and collectors tapered off. Huge stocks of the same pristine comic are worthless, and there was nothing unique about 90's comics to make it worth buying back issues. To stay alive, Marvel sold their licensing to movie companies on the cheap until their writing quality ramped up, starting roughly around the original Civil War arc. At a higher sale price, comics became profitable enough for Marvel to be willing to take a risk on doing the film thing on their own. DC has always been owned by Warner Brothers, so their risk was always smaller as long as Batman and Superman merchandise makes money.
    So, the end of the 90's was around the crash, and the end of the 00's was the right time to hop back in.